Yet another post on praise and what not to do

Another great post by Sharon (there are just so many) on Montessori_online about praising and encouraging a child. The unsettling thing for me is that I thought I had it figured out. Now I see it clearly. Noting a child who couldn’t do something now being to do something is NOT necessary and could be detrimental. The same goes for those ‘canned phrases’ we use, if we use them in an empty fashion:

“There is a fine but important line between praise and acknowledgment and the difference lies in *intent.* Praise is usually used to manipulate or direct behavior whereas acknowledgment is intended to support – context makes the difference. Acknowledgment is a gift that says “I’ve noticed what you are doing – I’m interested”, acknowledgment is an offering of support – it opens a line of discussion. Praise evaluates – it is summative (even if it is intended to promote further work) – and it is the very intent of “promoting further work” that makes it insidious – because, if the work is the child’s own self-chosen work – really spontaneous – then the point at which he is complete is his also.

But this does not feel quite complete to me – Now and again I get emails from people complementing my writing and I would be dishonest not to admit I enjoy it – because I know that when someone says they found what I say helpful it is honest – but I enjoy criticism just as much – because it helps me think about phrasing what I say differently, making myself better understood. Disagreement also opens the way to further conversation. So – how would this apply to children? We need to establish an environment where there is not “criticism” or “praise” but rather open and honest feedback -and the adult needs to be sensitive to the needs of the child as to how much of either is appropriate. To say to a child ‘wow you wrote two pages” when a child normally writes three words could be the kind of praise that Joao and Ann say should be avoided, but given context and relationship it could just be an honest display of interest.

Which leads me to what I was going to say in response to the mail when it was first posted – having a list of favorite lines seems a little contrived to me – almost like when I play a computer game, and do really badly – it says “well played” no matter what. When children receive automated responses from adults they pretty soon get to understand them for exactly what they are.

Sharon Caldwell
Montessori Foundation and IMC Representative: Africa
Editor: Montessori Leadership and Montessori Leadership Online
Instructional Guide: Montessori Leadership Institutes
74 Beach Road
East London
South Africa


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